Around December 2014 or January 2015: Copies of Clinton’s emails are deleted from the computers of two of Clinton’s lawyers.

On October 28, 2014, the State Department formally asked Clinton for copies of all her work-related emails, after asking informally for several months. Three lawyers working for Clinton, Cheryl Mills, David Kendall, and Heather Samuelson, then sorted Clinton’s emails into those they deemed work-related or personal.

Paul Combetta (Credit: Facebook)

Paul Combetta (Credit: Facebook)

According to a later FBI report, “on or around December 2014 or January 2015, Mills and Samuelson requested that [Platte River Networks (PRN) employee Paul Combetta] remove from their laptops all of the emails from the July and September 2014 exports. [Combetta] used a program called BleachBit to delete the email-related files so they could not be recovered.” PRN is the computer company managing Clinton’s emails at the time.

The FBI report will explain, “BleachBit is open source software that allows users to ‘shred’ files, clear Internet history, delete system and temporary files and wipe free space on a hard drive. Free space is the area of the hard drive that can contain data that has been deleted. BleachBit’s ‘shred files’ function claims to securely erase files by overwriting data to make the data unrecoverable.”

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ScreenConnect Logo (Credit: public domain)

Combetta then remotely connects to the laptops of Mills and Samuelson using the computer program ScreenConnect to complete the deletions. Clinton’s emails are being stored in a .pst file. Combetta will later tell the FBI “that an unknown Clinton staff member told him s/he did not want the .pst file after the export and wanted it removed from the [Clinton server]” as well.

The Clinton emails are deleted from the laptops of Mills and Samuelson around this time. But another copy of all the emails exist on the server. Combetta will delete those emails as well, in late March 2015. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

Between March 25 and 31, 2015: A Platte River Networks employee allegedly deletes all of Clinton’s emails and then wipes them to prevent their recovery, despite apparently having no clear order to do so.

Platte River Networks (PRN) is managing Clinton’s private server, and two PRN employees are occasionally working on it. Around December 2014, PRN employee Paul Combetta was told by one of Clinton’s lawyers (and her former chief of staff) Cheryl Mills to delete all copies of Clinton’s emails off Mills’ computer and the computer of another lawyer working for Clinton, Heather Samuelson. He did so. But he says he was also told by Mills to change the email retention policy on Clinton’s clintonemail.com email account so that Clinton’s unwanted “personal” emails would be deleted after 60 days, and he forgot to do that.

Combetta will be interviewed by the FBI on February 18, 2016. At that time, he will say that after a conference call between PRN and the staff of former President Bill Clinton on March 25, 2015, roughly between March 25 and 31, 2015, he will realize he forgot to make the change, but then will tell the FBI that he didn’t do anything about it.

However, Combetta will be interviewed by the FBI again on May 3, 2016, and his answers will change. This time, he will say he had what told the FBI was “an ‘oh shit’ moment.” Then, sometime between March 25 and 31, 2015, he deleted the Clinton archive mailbox from Clinton’s server. Furthermore, he used BleachBit to delete the exported .pst files he had created on the server system containing Clinton’s emails.

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There are six employees leading PRN in 2015. From left to right they are Brent Allshouse, David DeCamillis, Treve Suavo, Sam Hickler, Craig Papke, and Dave Robinson (not pictured). (Credit: Linked In and Platte River Networks)

An FBI report will explain, “BleachBit is open source software that allows users to ‘shred’ files,” as well as other functions. “BleachBit’s ‘shred files’ function claims to securely erase files by overwriting data to make the data unrecoverable.”

Additionally, the FBI investigation will later find “evidence of these deletions and determined the Datto backups of the [Clinton’s] server were also manually deleted during this timeframe.” However, the FBI will not mention if they figured out who deleted the Datto back-ups, whether it is Combetta or someone else.

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BleachBit System Cleaner 1.8 (Credit: BleachBit)

Note that Combetta was only asked by Mills to change the deletion policy on Clinton’s account, which would have deleted only her “personal” emails 60 days later. He actually immediately deleted all of her emails, including her work-related ones, and then used a program to make their later recovery impossible. It is not clear if anyone told him to do this, and if so who, or if he did it on his own.

Furthermore, Combetta took these actions even though Mills sent him (and others at PRN) an email on March 9, 2015, which mentioned how the House Benghazi Committee had requested to Clinton’s lawyers that all of Clinton’s emails should be preserved. In his first FBI interview, he will deny being aware of this. But in his second FBI interview, according to the FBI, at the time he made the deletions, “he was aware of the existence of the preservation request and the fact that it meant he should not disturb Clinton’s email data on [Clinton’s] server.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

February 18, 2016 and May 3, 2016: A Platte River Networks employee is interviewed twice by the FBI and gives contradictory answers.

Paul Combetta (Credit: public domain)

Paul Combetta (Credit: public domain)

Platte River Networks (PRN) is the computer company managing Clinton’s private server from June 2013 until at least October 2015, and PRN employee Paul Combetta played a pivotal role in the deletion of Clinton’s emails from her server.

On February 18, 2016, Combetta is interviewed by the FBI for the first time. He says that between March 25 and 31, 2015, he realized he failed to change the email retention policy on Clinton’s email account on her server, as Clinton’s lawyer (and former chief of staff) Cheryl Mills told him to do in December 2014. This would result in the deletion of some of her emails after 60 days. However, he claims that despite this realization, he still didn’t take any action. Additionally, on March 9, 2015, Mills sent him and other PRN employees an email which mentioned that the House Benghazi Committee had made a formal request to preserve Clinton’s emails. Combetta tells the FBI that he didn’t recall seeing the preservation request referenced in the email.

On May 3, 2016, Combetta has a follow-up FBI interview, and his answers on key issues completely contradict what he said before. This time, he says that when he realized between March 25 and 31, 2015 that he forgot to change the email retention policy on Clinton’s email account, he had an “oh shit!” moment. Then, instead of finally changing the policy settings, he entirely deleted Clinton’s email mailbox from the server,  and used the BleachBit computer program to effectively wipe the data to make sure it could never be recovered. He also deleted a Datto back-up of the data. And he did all this without consulting anyone in PRN or working for Clinton. Furthermore, he admits that he was aware of the mention in the March 9, 2015 email from Mills mentioning the Congressional request to preserve Clinton’s emails.

A September 2016 FBI report will simply note these contradictions. There will be no explanation why Combetta was not indicted for lying to the FBI, obstruction of justice, and other possible charges. There also will be no explanation why his answers changed so much in his second FBI interview, such as him possibly being presented with new evidence that contradicted what he’d said before. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

August 25, 2016: It is alleged that Clinton’s lawyers used a computer program to make sure her deleted emails couldn’t be recovered.

Since late 2014, when Clinton and her lawyers deleted over 31,000 of Clinton’s emails from when she was secretary of state, it has been unclear if the emails were simply deleted or “wiped,” meaning deliberate steps were taken to make sure they couldn’t be recovered later.

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Trey Gowdy appears with Martha MacCallum on Fox News on August 25, 2016. (Credit: Fox News)

In an interview, Representative Trey Gowdy (R) says that, “[Clinton] and her lawyers [Cheryl Mills, David Kendall, and Heather Samuelson] had those emails deleted. And they didn’t just push the delete button; they had them deleted where even God can’t read them. They were using something called BleachBit. You don’t use BleachBit for yoga emails or bridemaids emails. When you’re using BleachBit, it is something you really do not want the world to see.”

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BleachBit Logo (Credit: public domain)

BleachBit is computer software whose website advertises that it can “prevent recovery” of files. Politico notes that if Gowdy is correct, this would be “further proof that Clinton had something to hide in deleting personal emails from the private email system she used during her tenure as secretary of state.” It is not explained how Gowdy might know this, but his comments come only a few days after the FBI gave raw materials about their Clinton email investigation to Congress. (Politico, 8/25/2016)

Gowdy’s claim contradicts what FBI Director James Comey said on July 5, 2016 when he announced that he would not recommend charging Clinton with any crime. At that time, Comey stated, “we found no evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them. Our assessment is that, like many email users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted emails or emails were purged from the system when devices were changed.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/5/2016)

Within hours of Gowdy’s comments, BleachBit updates their website to say: “Last year when Clinton was asked about wiping her email server, she joked, ‘Like with a cloth or something?’ It turns out now that BleachBit was that cloth, according to remarks by Gowdy.” The website also notes, “As of the time of writing BleachBit has not been served a warrant or subpoena in relation to the investigation. … The cleaning process [of our program] is not reversible.” (BleachBit, 8/25/2016)

On September 2, 2016, the FBI’s final report on their Clinton email investigation will be released, and it will be revealed that BleachBit was used on Clinton’s server in late March 2015. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

September 8, 2016: The Denver Post editorial board suggests the deletion of Clinton emails is a “fishy story.”

The Denver Post Logo (Credit: The Denver Post)

The Denver Post Logo (Credit: The Denver Post)

The Denver Post’s editorial board publishes an editorial on September 8, 2016, entitled “A fishy story in Platte River Networks’ purge of Clinton e-mails.” It focuses on Platte River Networks (PRN) employee Paul Combetta’s FBI interview and his deletion and wiping of Clinton’s emails with a program “wonderfully named BleachBit.”

The editorial mentions Combetta’s “sudden remembrance” to delete the emails, and a subsequent conference call between PRN officials and a “longtime Clinton aide and personal lawyer.” When the FBI eventually attempted to investigate the conference call, they were met with Combetta’s claim of attorney-client privilege. The editorial states, “That just looks awful. So [it’s] little wonder the Republican chairman of the House committee investigating Clinton’s e-mail arrangement — Utah’s Jason Chaffetz — has asked federal prosecutors to investigate whether she or others were involved in the decision to destroy those emails following the preservation order.”

The Post argues “the information from the [FBI’s] summary of its investigation doesn’t sit well. It’s reasonable to ask why the FBI didn’t look deeper. It’s reasonable to ask why [Combetta] would act if, as the logic of the cover story must argue, the emails were simply personal notes about yoga appointments and being a grandmother.”

The editorial agrees with Chaffetz’s call for the Justice Department “to investigate and determine whether Secretary Clinton or her employees and contractors violated statutes that prohibit destruction of records, obstruction of congressional inquiries and concealment of cover-up of evidence material to a congressional committee.” It closes by saying, “something about this story feels whitewashed — or maybe bleached out is the better term for it now.” (The Denver Post, 9/8/2016)

October 9, 2016: Trump strangely and repeatedly claims Clinton “acid washed” her emails.

Donald Trump (Credit: Getty Images)

Donald Trump (Credit: Getty Images)

One of the stranger comments to come from the second general election presidential debate is Donald Trump’s insistence that Clinton literally washed her deleted emails with a chemical.

While Trump speaks about appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton and to “lock her up,” he brings up her email scandal and repeatedly mentions the idea that Clinton has “acid washed” her emails.

Right before calling for a special prosecutor, he says, “The thing that you should be apologizing for are the 33,000 emails that you deleted and that you acid washed.”

This is an acid-washed vest. (Credit: public domain)

This is an acid-washed vest. (Credit: public domain)

Later in the debate, and just before reiterating the call for a special prosecutor, he says again, “You delete 33,000 emails. And then you acid wash them, or bleach them, as you would say—a very expensive process.”

Trump’s campaign claims that the comment is a play on words. But the meaning of such a play on word isn’t clear. Acid washing is a process to fade the colors in mostly blue jeans and tee-shirts.

Slate theorizes that Trump read news reports that Platte Rivers Neworks employee Paul Combetta used a free computer program called BleachBit to destroy all traces of Clinton’s emails from her private server. Then Trump began referring to Clinton “bleaching” her emails. But somehow that evolved into frequent mentions of “acid washing” instead.

Slate further theorizes that Trump has come to take these words literally. In a public speech in August 2016, Trump suggested Clinton used chemicals to destroy the emails: “Thirty-three thousand emails that she deleted. They’re gone. And not only deleted folks, she bleached—which somebody said they had never even heard of—in a very expensive fashion, used chemicals so nobody will ever be able to see ‘em. Who does this?” (Slate, 10/10/2016) (Slate, 9/1/2016)